Finland 100: Minna Canth

This beautiful book (cover design by Anu Tuominen) is one of 12 classics republished by WSOY to celebrate Finland’s 100th anniversary. Minna Canth, the author of Työmiehen vaimo/The worker’s wife, died 120 years ago this Friday, so she didn’t live to see an independent Finland. But she was absolutely instrumental in shaping Finnish literature and society. Työmiehen vaimo was the first Finnish play to describe the life of the urban working class.

And what a life it was. The play made me angry about the injustice and poverty faced by working-class women. The ‘worker’ of the title, Risto, works exclusively on maintaining his drink habit, while his wife, Johanna, works her fingers to the bone. Within a year of marrying her he has spent her life savings and when she’s out meeting a client, he even cuts her work from the loom as collateral for just one more visit to the pub – forgetting that the baby is even at home. The other woman in the story, Kerttu, is much more fiery, and prepared to take the law into her own hands when Risto betrays her too, yet again. Law and order offer no comfort for these two women. Risto doesn’t see he’s done anything wrong  – “at least I don’t beat her” – and his friends and the police take his side. It is left to Vappu, their neighbour, to say that God will judge him in the end.

MinnaCanthReading the play over a century after it was written, the didactic and moral agenda feels overbearing, but it was needed then. Canth’s play changed the law in Finland – after it was performed, women were no longer legally regarded as their husband’s property. I’d still like to see Työmiehen vaimo staged.

Canth was a formidable woman. She was one of the first generation of women to train as a teacher in Finland, the first woman journalist writing in Finnish, author of several plays and collections of short stories, and an activist for women’s and workers’ rights. For a taste of her writing, in David Barrett’s English translation, read this short story of hers, The Nursemaid.

Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
Posted in books, Finland 100, theatre, translation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

advent Alice in Wonderland American And Other Stories Antonia Lloyd-Jones Arabic Barańczak Beowulf Bible books Brazil Brazilian Portuguese British British Library Buddhism Central Europe Children's Books Children's literature Chinese Christmas Christmas Carols Clare Cavanagh Contemporary Czesław Miłosz Dari Edinburgh Festival English Estonian Eugene Ostashevsky Europe European Literature Night Facebook Fantasy Farsi Fiction Finland Finland 100 Finlandia Prize Finnish Flemish Free Word Centre French friends George Szirtes German Greek Hebrew Herbert Lomas Herta Müller history Hobbit Hungarian Idioms Illustration international International Translation Day Italian J. R. R. Tolkien Japanese Jenny Erpenbeck Jewish Johanna Sinisalo Korean Language language learning Languages Latin left-handed Literature Lola Rogers Lord of the Rings Mabinogion Man Booker International Prize Maori Maria Turtschaninoff Mirkka Rekola Moomins New Year Nobel Prize Old English Oxford English Dictionary PEN Translation Prize Persian Philip Boehm Pippi Longstocking Poetry Poetry Translation Centre Polish Portuguese pubilc libraries Roald Dahl Romanian Rosa Liksom Russian Ryszard Kapuściński Salla Simukka Seamus Heaney Shakespeare Short Stories Slovene Sofi Oksanen Spanish Stanisław Barańczak Susan Bernofsky Svetlana Alexievich Swedish Switzerland Tadeusz Różewicz Terhi Ekebom Thomas Teal Tibetan Tove Jansson Translation translator Translators Without Borders Valentine's Day Wales Warsaw Welsh Wisława Szymborska Witold Szabłowski Women in Translation Month words Words without Borders writing

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Follow found in translation on WordPress.com
%d bloggers like this: